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The Gift of Saying Goodbye

By Jerri Haaven

 "Vestige" by Lisa Murray

Image: "Vestige" by Lisa Murray*

Is it possible to recover from a substantial personal loss? Whether the loss is due to the death of a spouse, a parent or a pet – or perhaps because of the breakup of a relationship through divorce, or even the loss of our youth, it’s possible that your loss gave way to intense feelings of sadness and affected your life in immeasurable ways. Conversely, repeated losses over the years may have left you feeling numb and empty.

Grief is defined as a natural and normal reaction to loss. Yet the physiological and emotional wounds that grief can cause are the least understood of emotional experiences. Unresolved grief can manifest for years causing debilitating illness and unnecessary suffering.

First, it’s important to recognize that grief doesn’t have a timeline. Some sources state that you should give yourself a year to mourn. The five stages of grief that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discusses in her book, On Death and Dying, were groundbreaking at the time it was published. But today, it might not necessarily hold true. Not everyone feels anger, nor do people necessarily bargain about death, and still others never accept the finality of their loss. Since grief is as unique as your fingerprint, your life’s experiences may determine how quickly you are able to move through a significant loss – or not at all.

The Consequence of Unresolved Grief

Let’s suppose when you were ten years old, you suffered an unimaginable loss – the death of a beloved dog. To minimize your sadness, you were told, “Big girls don’t cry.” Or, maybe your parents quickly replaced your dog with another one. In essence, this negated the importance of the dog you so loved, and left this relationship – and your feelings of sadness - incomplete.

A few years later you experience the death of a grandfather. The hushed whispers in the room and the inability to talk about him with your grandmother, “…so that you don’t upset her,” leave you with another incomplete relationship, and more unresolved feelings of sadness and confusion.

Later in life, you are faced with a divorce. While grappling with the enormity of this life-changing event, well-meaning friends might say to you, “Don’t feel bad. There are more fish in the sea.” And once again, you are left with another incomplete relationship, with the idea that you shouldn’t feel sadness – regardless of who may have initiated the proceedings!

All three of these examples have one thing in common. In some manner you were given the notion that your feelings didn’t matter, and that people or pets can be replaced. Worse, you were given the very incorrect message that you shouldn’t feel your pain, or that it’s wrong to be sad.

Not very helpful after all, is it?

This might explain then, why some of us have a harder time moving through our grief than others – because we don’t know how to do it. We haven’t been permitted to feel our feelings, or to say good-bye appropriately to someone or something that meant the world to us.

The consequences can be damaging. The key, then, is to learn how to walk through the door of your grief, and come out the other side. We can’t side step it. We can’t walk around it. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Because when we do, we get stuck. Our existing relationships suffer. Our health can suffer. And we are robbed of the gift to remember our loved one with fondness. Instead, all we feel is the pain of sadness each time we think of them. Tragically, for some, these feelings last for years and years.

Steps to Recover from Grief

With the right tools, people can – and do – recover from grief. “The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition,” by John W. James and Russell Friedman, is an excellent resource to learn how to take the steps necessary to resolve and recover from grief. Whether the loss you are trying to recover from happened several years ago, or a month ago – by taking the actions outlined in the book, you’ll discover an inner peace you never knew possible. The key is to be able to forgive past grievances, and to complete the relationship by saying good-bye. But don’t stop there. Years of pent up frustration over other unresolved losses should be addressed in the same manner. Each loss has impacted the way you handle the next loss you might encounter.

The Grief Recovery Institute also offers workshops you can take to go through the process of recovery with other ‘Grievers.’

I’ve gone through the class they offer, and it’s not easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the more painful experiences of my life because I was brought back in time to the day my dad died, and I had to re-live that awful day. But, with the help of a caring Grief Recovery Specialist, in a controlled environment, I was able to come out the other side. Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t get sad anymore. I do. But I can remember my dad with love, and can stay out of the dark hole that was swallowing me little by little before I took the class.

Grief is normal, yes. But we don’t have to be condemned to a life of suffering, either. Give yourself the gift of recovery. You’ll be glad you did.


OneWorld Memorials is proud to offer this best-selling motivational book written by Ellen Sue Stern, Living With Loss: Meditations for Grieving Widows. Living with Loss was written to help grieving widows process their emotions and thoughts during the loss of a loved one. Living with Loss is in a page a day format focusing on relevant topics and interspersed with small, helpful writing exercises that will provide comforting support throughout a year.

 *Image can be found at

Jerri Haaven is a freelance writer, and a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant. When caring for her dad, who suffered from dementia and COPD, Jerri struggled with the negative side effects of his illness. She developed positive outlets to express herself and recover from her loss. Today as a certified Grief Recovery Specialist and Celebrant, she uses her skills to help people who are in the midst of their own personal story of grief and loss.